Venezuela was once a wealthy country known for its strong constitutional democracy and peaceful shifts of power but collapsed under Higo Chavez’s misguides regime. Under Venezuela’s current political atmosphere, it demonstrates that the operability of the state is increasingly dependent on illiberal ideologies that shift the political equilibrium leaving it weak and unsustainable. The case of Venezuela raises dubious thought about the region’s ability to preserve democratic rule due to corrupt leaders that continue to prevail. All of which have had prominent political opportunities namely, weakened institutions of representation that helped ‘crowd’ out the opposition. I argue that under authoritarian regimes, vulnerable populations like in Venezuela are easily susceptible to fall under the lure of populist, corrupt leaders.
While the government’s only concern is maintaining control, the institutional erosion generates control that runs parallel with an authoritarian model in stark opposition than the values of the democracy that once was a beacon of stability in Latin America. The explicit undermining of institutionalized checks and balance in Venezuela’s new Magna Carta reflects the trend of quasi-authoritarian consolidation of power within the executive.
It is crucial to note that understanding the current Venezuelan president; Nicolas Maduro requires knowledge about his predecessor Hugo Chavez who organized the country’s socialism experiment. Chavez, a “charismatic political charmer” was able to sustain electoral legitimacy all while decreasing unemployment and increasing income per capita. In essence Hugo was a populist as he claimed the existing system of democracy was not working and declared an assault on democratic institutions and betrayal of basic democratic principles as defined by Jan-Werner Muller.
After the death of Chavez now it seems as though Maduro is too concerned with sticking to the Chavez legacy and keeping the support of the government and other bureaucratic elites. Chavez built a competitive-authoritarian system and unsurprisingly with elections that favored the ruling party. Indeed Chavez did not have any pressure, institutionally or systematically pressured to uphold any form of democracy. Furthermore, the power of the executive was already extremely strengthened by Chavez and ‘his’ constitution was distended again so that Maduro could appoint or overthrow directors (from the central bank for instance) without any council from the parliament. However, organizations like Mercosur and UNASUR have frameworks in place to defend democracy. They are designed to protect the incumbent, but do not do anything substantial to contain those already in power and prevent excessive corruption.
Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela and autocrat is struggling to remain in power as the country is faced with an unparalleled economic crisis. Maduro’s cumulative authoritarianism and denial to reform foreshadows a critical geopolitical and humanitarian challenge. Maduro fails to truly connect with the public and lacks the personal magnetism that would help in persuading the public of his policies because the system is less competitive and more authoritarian. In terms of foreign policy, under Maduro, Venezuela is exclusively concerned with gaining financial support from China while reiterating that they will pay back their huge debts. Maduro uses foreign policy to bolster internal support, which expelled thousands of Columbians from Venezuela and recovered a border conflict with Guyana. Clearly, the chavista president resorts to nationalism and xenophobia in hopes of avoiding electoral defeat. These intentional strategies of polarization have allowed the state to assemble majorities and emerge invisible in the election polls and a reason why the Venezuelan state has become an unpredictable force for stimulating democracy. Correspondingly, this sort of repression will undoubtedly increase but Maduro must use vast outlets of authority besides electoral victory to remain in power. Specifically, a controlled judiciary that invalidates most of what the saturated National Assembly does.
Although Maduro’s centralized power of Venezuela’s institutions remains unchallenged, it should not be confused for the growth of real power. As the economic crisis continues to snowball and he molds more into a tyrant, while alienating his political base instead of mobilizing them. Unsurprisingly, he relies on appointing members of the military to power in his own administration to prove that he does not have unilateral persuasion over the government, which overshadow his deep-rooted strategic weakness.
What does this mean for the future of politics in Venezuela? Maduro is an extreme authoritarian leader with an unpopular government but it is still unclear as to whether this type of system will yield a loss at the next presidential election. Instead of promoting dialogue Maduro has disempowered parliament because of party politics, by the parliament’s plan to overthrow the President. To move forward in the right direction and reduce polarization in Venezuela, the current Constitution has to be amended to limit presidential power.